2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid: Quick Drive

September 9, 2014

Heavy, family sized three-row crossover vehicles like the 2014 Infiniti QX60 probably don’t come to mind as particularly fuel-efficient picks—even when they have the Hybrid badge. But considering the very reason for being for hybrids—to recapture some of the energy in braking and coasting, and deliver it back when accelerating—the nearly 4,500-pound QX60 is a type of vehicle that arguably has a lot to gain from hybrid technology.

And if the QX60 Hybrid’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 25 mpg city, 28 highway (26 mpg Combined) are any indication, it could save you a lot of gas money over the long run.

Can the new hybrid system in the QX60 Hybrid—with its thin, twin-clutched 15-kilowatt electric motor system and compact lithium-ion battery pack—paired with a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), deliver this kind of mileage in real-world driving?

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We have to admit, we were a little pessimistic going in. Green Car Reports editor and colleague John Voelcker got an embarrassingly low 19.5 mpg in a mileage-minded test of the closely related Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid this past winter. And we wondered whether the low figure was related to the weather and temperature.

The answer is...probably...somewhat. Over nearly 80 miles of driving in a few short trips, and some suburban-style driving on boulevards and traffic-clogged freeways, the trip-computer average had settled to nearly 22 mpg.

But for the remaining 320 miles—most of it on two-lane rural highways—by the time we’d headed up to around 4,000 feet in elevation and back down near sea level, our average had settled to around 26 mpg. Which seems quite impressive for this kind of vehicle.

Decent mileage; sluggish performance

The QX60 Hybrid feels surprisingly sluggish from a standing start, and perhaps even more so at 5 mph, as we found, when we needed to quickly dart into a space in a faster-moving adjacent lane. Oddly, it feels just as strong at half or two-thirds of accelerator input as it does completely mashed to the floor.

The issue, to us, feels two-faceted. Firstly, the CVT feels like it’s geared too tall for the torque curve of the supercharged four alone, given the weight of the vehicle; and secondly, the torque from the thin-motor system is clutched in so gently and progressively that there’s a lag when you need it. In any case, it feels like there’s some massive latency between what you order up with your right foot and what happens in g-forces.

Speaking of your right foot, the QX60 Hybrid also includes something called the Eco Pedal. There’s definitely something in the theory behind the feature: Press back with more force when the driver is doing something deemed inefficient. Unfortunately, with the feature activated, I actually found my mileage plummeting, as I’d overcompensate when accelerating and end up with throttle inputs that actually weren’t as smooth as intended—quite the opposite of what was intended. Longer discussions are moot; turn it off.

The QX60 Hybrid doesn't respond as well to the 'pulse and glide' methods that pay dividends in smaller, lighter hybrids, but light takeoffs, and driving as if there were an egg under your right foot, pay off by keeping the gasoline engine from turning on.

As well, the gasoline engine does stop frequently, but generally not for long at all unless you have pretty much every accessory turned off. Having the A/C on very conservative settings—and sometimes with no A/C on at all—QX60 Hybrid often couldn’t make it through long traffic lights without having to restart the engine.

Safe and secure, but dull and detached

The QX60 is safe and secure-feeling, but handling limits are very low and steering is numb. Additionally, the brake pedal feels like it’s connected to a plunger in a bucket of peanut butter; the pedal level and friction point felt like they were in different places depending on how hard we stopped. And if you stop hard, there’s loads of nosedive.

The QX60 Hybrid is absolutely loaded with active-safety features, but one of them, the Lane Departure Prevention, is extremely intrusive. We drove this model back to back with a Subaru equipped with EyeSight, and it was eye-opening how naggy this system felt, and the level of falses. On a long, straight stretch of rural two-lane with wide shoulders and a thin white stripe along the side of the main travel lane as you see on many U.S. highways in the American West, we would take a course slightly to the right whenever oncoming traffic approached, setting off the strident alarms of the system. It didn’t learn our behavior, and the system is merely all the way on or all the way off.

Excellent interior comfort

Ride comfort was great, the cabin was quiet considering the coarse surface of some of the highways we took, and the front seats, while they lacked extendable thigh support, left my back feeling well supported some hours later.

The infotainment system is essentially what Infiniti models have offered for years. Don’t expect integrated apps in this one, or a particularly visually engaging navigation display, but it responds well through a series of straightforward knob, button, and touch-screen controls.

Although the QX60 Hybrid might not drive with the responsiveness, refinement, or finesse we'd expect of a vehicle that, well-optioned as ours, approached $60k, the QX60 Hybrid's powertrain does what it’s supposed to—returning mileage that, we suspect (based on our experiences with a long-term Infiniti JX), is about 15 percent better than what the non-hybrid QX60 would return.

That said, the QX60 Hybrid feels like one of the worst-integrated hybrid models we’ve driven in recent years; and we’ve driven a lot of hybrids. We’re big fans of the standard QX60; but somehow that model’s general confidence doesn’t translate over to this heavier, laggier vehicle. If fuel savings is the priority, consider a diesel model like the Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec or Audi Q7 TDI, or save a little money up front and get the standard, non-hybrid QX60.

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